Psalm 35:19-28; Exodus 19:10-20:21; Matthew 23:23-32

Sunny and awfully cold (+9F) this morning in Batavia.  People are pretty discouraged about ever seeing spring here in the Midwest.

Psalm 35:19-28  At this point in the psalm it’s becoming clearer that David is experiencing a legal proceeding against him in a courtroom, as his enemies testify against him, ostensibly as eyewitnesses: “They open their mouths wide against me./ They say, ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! Our eyes have seen it.'” (21).  But God is David’s witness as he pleads for his Lord to testify on his behalf: “You, Lord, have seen, do not be mute.” (22)  And then somewhat desperately, “Rouse Yourself, wake for my cause, my God and my Master, for my quarrel.” (23).

God is both witness and judge: “Judge me by Your justice, Lord my God.” (24)  Which of course is what God is to us, as well.  But David stands by himself before God.  In Jesus Christ, we have an advocate before our Judge.

David is not completely alone, though.  Just as there is a crowd of people testifying against him “who rejoice in my harm” (26), there are those who stand with David: “May they sing glad and rejoice,/ who desire justice for me.” (27).  So, too, in community we are among those who will sing and rejoice for us when we are on trial.  And when we come through that trial, they will also sing with us, “Great is the Lord/ Who desires His servant’s well-being.” (28)

 Exodus 19:10-20:21  This dramatic episode where God comes to Mount Sinai demonstrates that we do not approach God casually.  There is a clear separation between God and men, and God makes it clear that anyone who even touches the mountain will die.  And that to even listen to God’s voice requires significant preparation, as in the washing of their cloaks (which we recall the Israelites took from the Egyptians upon their departure).  Interesting side note (for me, anyway): that “on the third day the Lord will come down before the yes of all the people on Mount Sinai.” (19:11)  It seems that there is an OT precedent for everything that happens in the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection.

The theophany is dramatic to say the least: “…there was thunder and lightening and a heavy cloud on the mountain and the sound of the ram’s horn.” (19:16).  This is no ordinary storm, “and all the people who were in the camp trembled.” (19:17).   Moses is the intermediary between God and the people and he shuttles between God on the mountain and the people below as “Moses would speak, and God would answer him with voice.” (19:19).  This entire scene presages Christ as our own intermediary–and reminds us that God certainly loves us as our “Abba,” but that he is also God, creator of the universe and we do well to remember God’s omnipotence.

What I had not really thought about before is that before the Ten Commandments took written form, they were spoken to the people by God Himself.  The Commandments as we know them are basically a condensation of God’s long sermon here.  That, among other things, emphasizes again the generational theme we have seen so often,   “I am the Lord your God, a jealous god, reckoning the crime of fathers with sons…for My foes.” (20:5,6)  But also, “doing kindness to the thousandth generation for My friends and for those who keep My commands.” (20:6)

Matthew 23:23-32  Matthew builds to the climax of what Jesus came to earth to tell us.  And it is not easy to hear.  These four “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” paragraphs are not just speaking to the religious leaders of his day, but Jesus is speaking to the hypocrite in all of us.

First, we focus on the trivial: the appetizer (“mint, dill, and cummin”) but not the main dish: “justice and mercy and faith.”  It’s as if Jesus is describing David’s oppressors in Psalm 35.

Second, and what I think is the defining quality of all good hypocrites: focusing solely on our appearance rather than the dirty reality (“inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth”) of our character.  Church is an especially attractive place for this practice: This is where we put our exterior selves on public display in attractive literal and figurative clothing.  We want nothing more than to appear whole and “with it” to those around us, even though we are broken inside.

Third, “Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.” (23:31)  This is Jesus’ awful prophecy.  Not only do the scribes and Pharisees claim they would not have killed the prophets had they been present back then, but Jesus knows they are about to kill the Prophet in their midst.

To claim we are better than our ancestors when in fact we are about to commit the same crime is perhaps the worst hypocrisy of all.  Just as our society today believes it is more “enlightened” and more “tolerant” than our benighted forebears, we are just like the scribes and Pharisees: ready to pounce and annihilate anyone who dares point out our societal failings in a way that does not comport with the accepted (and dare I say it: politically correct) “wisdom.”

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